The most important task that is being developed within the framework of American NGSW program promising rifle weapons, should be the provision of guaranteed penetration of modern and promising bulletproof vests developed in the world's leading weapons laboratories. Before returning to the problem of developing a “sword,” a promising small arms capable of effectively resisting the American weapons developed under the NGSW program, it would be advisable to get to know the “shield” more closely - technologies for creating promising personal protective equipment (NIB).
There is an opinion that the problem of NIB impenetrability is far-fetched, because if a bullet hits an enemy, it will either be so traumatized that it will not be able to actively conduct combat operations further, or it will fall into an unprotected part of the body. Judging by the NGSW program, the US Armed Forces do not consider this problem contrived. The problem is that the rate of improvement of promising NIBs is currently significantly ahead of the rate of improvement of small arms. And the US Armed Forces are just trying to make a breakthrough in the direction of radically improving the characteristics of small arms, the question is, will they succeed?
There are two main ways to increase the armor penetration of ammunition - increase its kinetic energy and optimize the shape and material of the ammunition / ammunition core (of course, we are not talking about explosive, cumulative or poisoned ammunition). And here we actually rest against a certain limit. A bullet or core for it is made of ceramic alloys of high hardness and sufficiently high density (to increase mass), they can be harder and harder to make, it is hardly denser. Increasing the mass of a bullet by increasing its dimensions is also almost impossible in the acceptable dimensions of handguns. There remains an increase in bullet speed, for example, to hypersonic, but even in this case, developers are faced with enormous difficulties in the form of the lack of necessary gunpowder, extremely rapid barrel wear and high recoil acting on the shooter. Meanwhile, the improvement of NIB is much more intensive.
Since its inception, personal protective equipment has come a long way from steel cuirasses and plates to modern bulletproof vests made of aramid fabric with inserts of ultra high molecular weight high density polyethylene (UHMWPE) and boron carbide.
Steel breastplate of fighters of the USSR army - a harbinger of body armor
Bullet-proof vest 6Б45 of the military personnel of the army of the Russian Federation with armor plate "Granite 5а" made of boron carbide
Improving the NIB is in the areas of searching for new materials, creating composite and cermet armored elements, optimizing the shape and structure of NIB elements, including at the micro and nanoscale, which will effectively dissipate the energy of bullets and fragments. More exotic solutions are also being developed, such as “liquid armor” based on non-Newtonian fluids.
The most obvious way is to improve the traditional designs of body armor by reinforcing them with inserts from promising composite and ceramic materials. At the moment, most of the NIB is equipped with inserts made of heat-strengthened steel, titanium or silicon carbide, but gradually replaced by armor elements made of boron carbide, which have a lower mass and significantly greater resistance.
VIRIAL silicon carbide armor
Armor elements from boron carbide produced by NEVZ-CERAMIX
Another area of improvement of NIB is the search for the optimal structure for the placement of armored elements, which on the one hand should cover the maximum surface area of the fighter’s body, and on the other hand, do not hamper his movements. As an example, albeit not entirely successful, but interesting development, you can bring the body armor "Dragon Skin" (Dragon Skin), designed and manufactured by the American company Pinnacle Armor. In the Dragon Skin bullet-proof vest the scaly arrangement of armored elements is realized.
Pinnacle Armor Dragon Skin Body Armor
Bonded disks made of silicon carbide with a diameter of 50 mm and a thickness of 6,4 mm provide the convenience of wearing this NIB due to a certain flexibility of the design and at the same time a sufficiently large area of the protected surface. Also, this design provides resistance to multiple hits of bullets fired from small arms at close range - "Dragon Skin" can withstand up to 40 hits from a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, M16 rifle or Kalashnikov assault rifle (the only question is how much of which and which cartridge ?).
The disadvantage of bulletproof vests of a “scaly” arrangement of armored elements is the almost complete lack of protection of the fighter from backward injuries, which leads to serious injuries or death of servicemen even without breaking the ISS, as a result of which this type of bulletproof vests did not pass the tests of the US Army. Nevertheless, they are used by some special forces and special services of the United States.
A similar “scaly” scheme was implemented in the Soviet ZhZL-74 body armor, designed for extreme protection against cold steel, in which armored discs with a diameter of 50 mm and a thickness of 2 mm made of aluminum alloy ABT-101 were used.
Bulletproof vest ЖЗЛ-74
Despite the shortcomings of the SIB “Dragon Skin”, the scaly arrangement of armored elements can be used in combination with other types of armor protection and shock-absorbing elements to reduce the back-loading effect of bullets and fragments.
Scientists from American Rice University have developed an unusual structure that allows an object to more effectively absorb kinetic energy than a monolithic object from the same raw materials. The basis for the scientific work was the study of the properties of plexuses of carbon nanotubes having an ultrahigh density due to the special arrangement of filaments with cavities at the atomic level, which allows them to absorb energy with high efficiency in a collision with other objects. Since it is not yet possible to fully reproduce such a structure at the nanoscale on an industrial scale, it was decided to repeat such a structure in macro sizes. The researchers used polymer filaments, which can be printed on a 3D printer, but arranged them on the same system as the nanotubes, and as a result received cubes with high strength and compressibility.
A material whose properties are more determined by the structure than by the material can become a promising direction for improving NIB
To test the effectiveness of the structure, scientists created a second object from the same material, but monolithic, and launched a pool into each of them. In the first case, the bullet stopped already on the second layer, and in the second it went much deeper and caused damage to the whole cube - it remained intact, but was covered with cracks. A plastic cube with a special structure was also placed under the press to test its strength under pressure. During the experiment, the object was compressed at least twice, but its integrity was not violated.
Deformation of a cube of polymer threads
Speaking about materials, the properties of which are largely determined by the structure, one cannot but mention developments in the field of foam metal - metal or composite metal foam. Foam can be created on the basis of aluminum, steel, titanium, other metals or their alloys.
Experts at the University of North Carolina (USA) developed a steel foam metal with a steel matrix, enclosing it between the upper ceramic layer and a thin lower layer of aluminum. Foam less than 2,5 cm thick stops the armor-piercing bullets of 7,62 mm caliber, after which a hole of less than 8 mm remains on the rear surface.
Hit of a bullet in a foam metal block (in the signature to the clip it says about a bullet of the caliber 12,7 mm, but a number of other sources indicate 7,62 mm)
Among other things, the foam plate effectively reduces the effects of x-ray, gamma and neutron radiation, and also protects from fire and heat twice as good as ordinary metal.
Another material with a hollow structure is an ultralight form of foam metal, created by HRL Laboratories in collaboration with Boeing. The new material is a hundred times lighter than polystyrene foam - it consists of 99,99% air, but has extremely high rigidity. According to the developers, if you cover an egg with this material and it falls from the height of 25 floors, it will not break. The resulting foam metal is so light that it can lie on a dandelion.
Promising material from HRL Laboratories and Boeing
The prototype uses hollow nickel tubes interconnected, the arrangement of which is similar to the structure of human bones, which allows the material to absorb a lot of energy. The wall thickness of each tube is of the order of 100 nanometers. Instead of nickel, other metals and alloys can be used in the future.
Presentation of foam metal by HRL Laboratories and Boeing
This material or its analogue, as well as the aforementioned structured polymeric material, can be considered for use in promising NIBs as elements of a light and durable shock-absorbing backing designed to minimize damage to the body caused by the barrage of bullets.
In Russia, the word “nanotechnology” is pretty much discredited by politicians and the media, who remember it in and out of place, as a result of which it is more associated with corruption than with science. At the same time, nanotechnology, the manipulation of objects at the atomic and molecular levels, the creation of substances with a given structure, are capable of making a revolution in industry and technology, which was not equal to stories of humanity. Those interested can recommend the book "Machines of Creation" by Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotechnology.
One of the most promising materials, which is widely used in various industries of the 21st century, is graphene, a two-dimensional allotropic modification of carbon formed by a layer of carbon atoms one atom thick. Spanish experts are developing body armor based on graphene. The development of graphene armor started in the early 2000s. The research results were recognized as promising, in September 2018, the developers switched to practical tests. The project is funded by the European Defense Agency and is currently ongoing, with the participation of specialists from the British company Cambridge Nanomaterials Technology.
Two-dimensional carbon against bullets
Similar work is underway in the United States, in particular, Rice University and the University of New York, where experiments were conducted on shelling graphene sheets with solid objects. Graphene armor elements are expected to be significantly stronger than Kevlar ones and will be combined with ceramic armor to get the best result. The greatest difficulty is the production of graphene in industrial quantities. However, given the potential of this material in various industries, there is no doubt that a solution will be found. According to insider information that appeared on the pages of specialized media in December 2019, Huawei plans to launch a P2020 smartphone with graphene battery (with graphene electrodes) at the beginning of 40, which can indicate significant advances in the industrial production of graphene.
At the end of 2007, Israeli scientists created a self-healing material based on nanoparticles of tungsten disulfide (a salt of tungsten metal and hydrogen sulfide acid). Tungsten disulfide nanoparticles are layered fullerene-like or nanotubular formations. Nanotubulenes possess record mechanical characteristics that are fundamentally unattainable for other materials, amazing flexibility and strength, which is on the verge of strength of covalent chemical bonds.
Electron microscopic image and structural model of a multi-walled nanotube of molybdenum and tungsten disulfides
It is possible that in the future, bulletproof vests with filling from this material can surpass the characteristics of all other existing and promising NIB models. Currently, the development of NIB based on tungsten disulfide nanotubes is in the laboratory stage because of the high cost of synthesis of the starting material. Nevertheless, a certain international company already produces nanoparticles of tungsten and molybdenum disulfides in the amount of many kilograms per year using a patented technology.
The large British defense company Bae Systems is developing a gel-filled body armor. In a gel filled bulletproof vest, it is supposed to impregnate the aramid fiber with a non-Newtonian fluid, which has the property of instantly hardening under impact. It is believed that "liquid armor" is one of the most promising areas for the development of promising NIB. Such work is also being carried out in Russia in relation to the promising outfit of soldiers “Ratnik-3”.
Equipment concept "Warrior-3"
Almost anyone can make the simplest non-Newtonian fluid - just mix the starch with water, and with body armor everything is, of course, more complicated.
Thus, we can conclude that it is planned to create promising NIBs using the latest technologies at the forefront of technological progress. If we talk about small arms, then there is no such riot of technology. What is the reason for this, the lack of need or the conservatism of the weapons sphere?
Many promising NIB projects will certainly come to a standstill, but some of them will surely “shoot”, and possibly make all small arms of the 20th century obsolete, as bows, crossbows and muzzle-loading small arms were outdated in due time. In addition, body armor is not the only important element in the equipment of a fighter, which can radically increase his survival in battle.
What other items of equipment will increase the survivability of soldiers on the battlefield and why this will lead to an increase in the value of small arms, we will talk in the next article. Taken together, this will allow us to understand why it is necessary to create small arms that can penetrate existing and future NIBs, and why it is not worth saving on this.